Breaking Down Top Tight Ends in 2014 NFL Draft
The tight end class for the upcoming 2014 NFL draft may not be overly deep, but it is top-heavy with some seriously impressive talent.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Troy Niklas should all be off the board in the first two rounds, as the tight end position is steadily gaining importance in today's NFL, and all four guys fit the bill as a true No. 1 starter.
But that's not to say they are all the same types of prospects, and each of them have their strengths as well as their flaws, which are assessed here.
The four prospects are not ranked in any particular order in this list.
Pros: It would not be a huge overstatement to say that Ebron is a freak of nature. At 6'4", 250 pounds, he's built like a tight end. But if you watch him play, you would swear that you're watching a deep-threat receiver out on the field.
Ebron's speed and quickness are elite, and he is a dynamic threat on every single play. He has the ability to make incredible catches because of his coordination and athleticism, and he would be a weapon that any NFL team would love to have.
Cons: 6'4", 250 pounds may seem big, but he could stand to put on a little more weight and bulk up to deal with the physical demands of the NFL. In the same breath, he is a decent blocker but gets overpowered far too often.
And as Greg Peshek of Rotoworld discussed, Ebron also has a "dirty little secret": his hands aren't that reliable. His drop rate of 11.43 percent is way higher than any other tight end on this list and is high enough that some serious questions have to be asked about Ebron's ability to consistently bring in passes at the next level.
Pros: Seferian-Jenkins is the prototypical "basketball tight end" in this draft, and he literally fits that bill, as he played hoops for Washington as a freshman before quitting to focus solely on football. At 6'6" with a thick build, ASJ possesses an ideal frame for a top NFL tight end.
He's a good pass-catcher and can make the difficult grabs as well as the easy ones. There's a natural fluidity and athleticism to his game, which is promising to see from such a big guy, and he's the kind of mismatch nightmare that will make NFL offensive coordinators salivate.
Cons: ASJ is not an overly polished product, and for someone with such rare natural ability he does not always dominate like he should. He caught only 36 passes for 450 yards in 2013, which are very underwhelming totals. The fact that he only averaged 1.69 yards after contact (h/t Rotoworld), over a full yard less than every other tight end on this list, raises concern as well.
He isn't a great route-runner at this stage, and he needs to be crisper and more purposeful with his movements. The same goes for blocking, as he is only an average blocker despite having the physical traits to be an outstanding one. These issues need to be corrected immediately for him to be successful in the NFL.
Pros: The biggest and strongest tight end in this group, Niklas is something of a "throwback" type player. He's a physical, mauling blocker who does not have perfect technique but still dominates in most situations.
He has a ton of experience playing with his hand in the dirt next to the offensive tackle (Peshek charted him at 70.59 percent of in-line snaps), which will appeal to teams who employ a more traditional tight end role. With a 6'6", 270-pound frame and long arms, Niklas will be physically ready for the NFL right away.
Cons: Niklas has only been playing tight end since switching from outside linebacker before the 2012 season, and there are certainly some things that he will need to polish up on when he gets to the NFL.
He needs to get better at route running and needs to improve how he catches the football. Niklas also isn't an elite athlete like an Ebron or Seferian-Jenkins, so he's limited in that sense. He isn't going to put up huge statistics, but he'll contribute in other ways and could develop into a solid receiver.
Pros: Amaro is one of the new types of slot tight ends who make their living as safety blankets and mismatch problems for defenses. He makes his living in the slot and can carve up the middle of the field with short gains and first downs to keep drives going.
He's 6'5" with long arms and reliable hands, and he ran a ton of crisp short and intermediate routes at Texas Tech while racking up an amazing 106 catches for an FBS tight end record 1,352 yards. Stats can be misleading, but that type of production is impossible to ignore.
Cons: The biggest negative with Amaro directly relates to the positive: he is a slot player first and tight end second. Yes, he is a quality receiver and big body in the middle of the field, but he isn't a well-rounded tight end.
He lined up in the slot on 87.50 percent of Texas Tech's plays in 2013 (h/t Rotoworld). Let that number digest for a second. Needless to say, Amaro is not a good blocker. And despite his solid combine performance, he also looks a bit stiff in his movement at times and doesn't have the explosiveness or power that many teams want in a No. 1 tight end.